An old British Broadcasting Company radio series, Listen With Mother, began each program by asking, “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”
On Friday, Aug. 5, 1921, baseball on the air began commercially, if not always comfortably, over America’s first licensed radio station, Pittsburgh’s KDKA. More than a century of the pastime has now been ferried to the republic through the air by the wireless, as it was first known, and later television.
Since baseball has long seemed wed to both, it is natural to assume that it must have long been in harmony with each. In fact, Harold Arlin was winging it that August afternoon at Forbes Field in suburban Pittsburgh as he described the first major-league baseball game ever broadcast – play-by-play, carried by a microphone – inventing an art form as he spoke.
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In 1947, many in Mansfield wanted to name its high school football stadium “Arlin Field.” For more than an hour, the school board, which he served as president, argued the merits, Harold strongly and futilely against. Years later the board’s vote still upset him because it was “one of the few times in my life that no one would listen to me.”
The once “Voice of America” died March 14, 1986, at 90, in Bakersfield, Calif. Many obituaries praised “the man who started play-by-play.”
Curt Smith, to USA Today “the voice of authority on baseball broadcasting,” is the author of more than a dozen books. A former Speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush, he is a Gannett News Service columnist and Senior Lecturer of English at the University of Rochester.